Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Being relatable is my students' highest praise. And if something isn't relatable, it's their worst criticism. Is this even a word? Why do they love it so much?!

Reading JVS, "On the Teaching of Political Philosophy," illuminates my gut reaction of frustration with this response. He writes,

Indeed, as it often happens, the first reading may well be drudgery. How frequently do I find a student who will come up after class to tell me that he does not 'like' Aristotle, this after having hurriedly read but once in his whole short life only the first seven books of the Ethics! I never fail to look most pained when I hear this complaint, because in fact I am most pained. But I recall reading Plato for the first time, and the second, and the third, when he seemed as unintelligible to me as Aristotle to my student. About the fiftieth time, he began to make some sense. Students going through Plato for the first time at my behest provide me the opportunity to go through Plato for the fifty-first time. It is a fair deal, I am happy to think. 

Reading political philosophy is hard and the best stuff doesn't start out, at least, as being relatable. But if it were relatable, then it wouldn't have that much to teach us. The point of being a student is a realization that we don't have the truth and that it might even be frustrating to encounter it for the first time, because truth is the sort of thing that can't be tamed.

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